"Can A. come out to play?" I plead into the intercom.
"Sure. I'll just get her ready and she'll be down in a mo," says her Mum.
The thing is, I crave some of my own *space* but Single Child needs a whole lot more stimulation: she's even worn out ever-patient Hilary (The One Who Can't be Seen), dragging the poor invisible boy out of bed to play at Christ knows what hour. I've lasted an everlasting morning and it's gone noon already but I would really rather have some help today. Oh, I know it's my job and mostly I love being a mum but I don't relish being teacher, trampoline or extra-fit dancer for another five hours until The Man-of the-Moment, Mr Maker, starts prancing around and making wondrous artifacts on CBeebies at 5.25.
Five minutes later, A., pushes open the heavy door and says to me solemnly:
"I have to have my ..."
"A-law-a" enthuses Celeste (Alawa isn't her real name but Lestie can't get to grips with so many vowels all in one place). A. ignores her.
"Becky, I have to ...."
"A-law-a," Lestie nods and smiles in excitement. "Do you want to play wif my ..."
A. interrupts her with a dirty look and an articulate "Celeste, I am talking to yer mom." Now, A. is over a year older than My Girl, whose impatient eagerness sometimes drives her up the wall. I know exactly how she feels.
"Mommy says I can come and play after I eat me toast," A. informs me and she leaves poor Lestie looking bewildered and a little hurt.
"A. will be down again soon," I promise.
About 20 minutes later, the two of them are pulling out every doll and every teddy from the toy box and every item of clothing from the dressing up trunk. It is bliss. For a while. They mould things out of play dough, they fight over the play dough scissors. They fight over half and apple, even though I cut a whole one in two - one half each. They fight over a table and chair. AGHH!
A. is the third youngest of six children so she's perfectly used to sharing everything but Celeste still doesn't quite get it and snatches whatever A. picks up out of her hands. Then my own child gets ratty so I put her on the yellow chill-out chair, where she can think about the consequences of her behaviour and just bloody well calm down! After a hissy-fit (sorry, Mrs Bill Clinton, I so couldn't resist that one), they get along famously and giggle and chase each other around and dress up.
"Can we do some cutting?"
This is a good idea: we've got loads of paper and two pairs of child-safe scissors so what's the worst that could happen? They sit happily cutting out shapes, leaving a whole lot of mess on the floor. Their attention is starting to wander, however, and in my attempt to teach them about tidying up after themselves, so as to save me from being a skivvy for the rest of my maternal life (oh, shit! That's forever, isn't it?), I give them a box in which to put all the loose cuttings and I encounter no backlash whatsoever. Hey, I'm getting rather good at this!
Several minutes later, Celeste brings the box over to me. It's full of small pieces of yellow paper and ...
"Look, Mummy, A-law-a's hair."
OMG! What the ...? And sure enough there are slithers of fine, blond hair in the box, on the floor and loose against A.'s head, every clump thick enough to tie a ribbon around and store in a memory box. Uncharitably, my first thought is "Thank fuck it's not Celeste's hair!" and my second is "Which one of these two darling little girls did this? A. or C.?"
It turns out that A. cut off her own tresses "by accident." Oh yeah, so why is she also holding a doll's hairbrush in her hand? She starts to cry. I give her a hug and tell her not to worry but she mustn't cut her own hair in future. Celeste starts to cry. Why?!?
We walk A. home to explain the impromptu haircut to her parents. Thankfully, they're both completely unperturbed - they've got 6 kids for goodness sake, they've seen it all.
And anyway, although I don't mention it to A., she's done rather a good job.